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Metropolitan Museum’s Empty Director’s Chair: Text of Dan Weiss Memo to Staff

Now that Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Campbell has officially left the building (as of June 30), who will serve as acting director until a new director is chosen?

Surprisingly, the short answer appears to be: “No one.”

Screenshot by Lee Rosenbaum

Here’s the memo sent to the museum’s staff by its president and CEO, Daniel Weiss (the text of which I received from a highly reliable Met source):

I am pleased to share that we will be promoting Quincy [Houghton] to Deputy Director for Exhibitions. Together, Quincy and Carrie Rebora Barratt [my link, not his], in her role as Deputy Director for Collections and Administration, are providing strong and productive leadership of the Director’s Office during this transition phase, as the search for a new Director is now underway.

Houghton’s title when she was poached a year ago from the Getty Museum was “associate director for exhibitions.” Her uncle, James Houghton, was chairman of the Met’s board when it selected Campbell to succeed Philippe de Montebello as director:

Press conference introducing Tom Campbell as the Met’s director-designate
L to R: then president Emily Rafferty, chairman James Houghton, director Philippe de Montebello, curator Tom Campbell
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum, September 2008

With two deputy directors and no acting director, it seems to me that Weiss will be de facto acting director, along with his other two official titles. Perhaps the board didn’t want to give Carrie or Quincy a spin in the driver’s seat, with the likelihood of eventually having to hand over the wheel. It’s unorthodox and unsettling, though, for the administration of such a distinguished, vibrant institution to be stuck in a state of suspended animation.

My Met source also told me that Phillips Oppenheim, the search firm engaged by the Met (as revealed yesterday by the NY TimesRobin Pogrebin) to help find its new director, “is holding open sessions for all staff throughout July to formulate the position description.” It sounds like the wheels of progress may be moving slowly.

In May 2008, I published Phillip Oppenheim’s description of the requirements for the Met directorship last time, when the search settled on Campbell. At the end of that list of desirable traits was being “in possession of a sense of humor.”

While we await further developments, here’s how Campbell’s Instagram webpage (with its most recent posting on June 25 from Hong Kong) still identifies him, at this writing:

Apparently none of this administrative uncertainty has shaken Leonard Lauder‘s determination to make a gift of his Cubist collection to the Met. In her article yesterday, Pogrebin felt a need to put to rest the “nagging question” of whether the financially challenged Met’s delayed renovation and expansion could cause Lauder to have second thoughts about his “promised gift,” even though the Wall Street Journal‘s Kelly Crow had dispelled those doubts back in March. That said, Robin’s piece did contain a nugget of news: Under the terms of the agreement with Lauder, the Met must “create a suitable home for the Lauder material by 2025.”

More than the “sense of humor,” Campbell’s successor will need another asset cited by Phillips Oppenheim in its last Met-director search—“effectiveness at cultivating donors, collectors and other supporters”…particularly those willing to contribute megabucks to the stalled capital campaign.

an ArtsJournal blog